Perspective: Long-Term Market Performance.

December 2, 2011

About the only certainty in the stock market is that, over the long haul, over performance turns into under performance and vice versa. Is there a pattern to this movement? Let’s apply some simple regression analysis (see footnote below) to the question.

Below is a chart of the S&P Composite stretching back to 1871 based on the real (inflation-adjusted) monthly average of daily closes. I’ve using a semi-log scale to equalize vertical distances for the same percentage change regardless of the index price range.

The regression trendline drawn through the data clarifies the secular pattern of variance from the trend — those multi-year periods when the market trades above and below trend. That regression slope, incidentally, represents an annualized growth rate of 1.72%.

The peak in 2000 marked an unprecedented 155% overshooting of the trend — nearly double the overshoot in 1929. The index had been above trend for nearly 18 years. It dipped about 9% below trend briefly in March of 2009, but at the beginning of December 2011 it is 31% above trend. In sharp contrast, the major troughs of the past saw declines in excess of 50% below the trend. If the current S&P 500 were sitting squarely on the regression, it would be around the 922 level. If the index should decline over the next few years to a level comparable to previous major bottoms, it would fall to the mid 400s.

Footnote on Calculating Regression: The regressions on the Excel charts above are exponential regressions to match the logarithmic vertical axis. I used the Excel Growth function to draw the lines. The percentages above and below the regression are the calculated as the real average of daily closes for the month in question divided by the Growth function value for that month minus 1. For example, the monthly average of daily closes for December was 1226.41. The Growth function value for the month was 921.64. Thus, 1207.22 divided by 921.92 minus 1 equals 33.3%, which I rounded to 33%.

Footnote on the S&P Composite: For readers unfamiliar with this index, see this article for some background information.